Sunday, October 31, 2010

City of God

We are finishing up our fourth day in Rio, heading to Iguazu Falls tomorrow, but so sad to leave this beautiful city and the amazing people we've met along the way.  There's a bit of a culture shock upon entering any foreign country, but we settled in rather quickly, remembering why it is we love to travel.  When you fill each moment of the day with a completely unique, completely new experiences, it becomes addictive rather quickly.  It's easy to see how people can peel off and travel for an entire year or more.

We are staying in the Lighthouse Hostel in Ipanema Beach.  The Lighthouse is owned and run by Sylvia, a vegetarinan athiest from Rio.  Though I can't say I ever imagined I would warm up to someone who hated bacon and god, Sylvia has been amazing.  Sylvia is like a mom with no actual children.  When you own a hostel, you give birth to new children every three days.  Some of our best adventures in Rio were accompinied by our fellow hostel mates.  They are a wild mix from the States,Australia,France,Germany,Argentina, England and Brazil.  Without them, our experience here would not be the same.  Though we were all strangers with language barriers at first, it doesn't take much for fellow travelers to warm up to each other, as we each share a similar view: go explore the world you live in!



Hostel row.  Our accomodations weren't awesome, but the people were exquisite.
 Some highlights from the trip below

Night One:  Road weary and tired, we watched the sunset in Copacabana, then stumbled into a bar for drinks.  We stayed quite a while, taking in the sights around as a few hours passed.  The bar filled up with men, lots of men.  Before we knew it, everyone was making out and groping each other.  Too tired and slightly buzzed, we finally realized we had been sitting in a gay bar for the past three hours.  We laughed and decided to call it a night after a Kabob.

Day two:  We spent the first half of the day on a favela tour.  The favela tour was, without question, one of the most eye opening and astounding things I have ever experienced.  A favela is a slum in Rio run by drug lords.  We visited a favela where 300,000 people lived in the side of a mountain.  Everything in a favela is technically illegal.  They steal their electricity, there is no formal trash system, no sewage (it runs right beneath your feet in a small stream) and most importantly, there is no Brazilian law.  The police rarely enter the favellas and for good reason: people usually die.  Recently, some of the youths shot down a police helicoptor and the entire favella held a three day party to celebrate it. Corrupt and brutal, the police are despised in Brazil.  In the favella, houses are built haphazardly in the hill side out of a mish-mash of found materials and stacked on top of each other like legos.  A few bricks, some corrogated aluminum and clay shingles make up the majority of houses.  There is a hierarchy, the rich live higher in the mountian, the poor live at the bottom with little water, also where the trash and  sewage accumulates.  To reach the favelas, we took a van to the bottom with our tour guide.  The tour company built and runs a day cares in the favella and as such, are allowed in and out with their groups of Gringos with relative ease.  At the bottom of the favella, we hopped on motorcycles and zoomed to the top in what seemed like a chase sequence from Lethal Weapon 3.  I'll be honest, it was terrifying and enough to make your butthole pucker right up.  Suprisingly, no one has ever died on their way up to the top.  I wanted to videotape it, but there are many places in the favella where taking pictures and video are forbidden.  Keep in mind, this is a small city run by drug gangs. During the tour, at multiple points we passed youths carrying Israeli sub machine guns.  They serve as lookouts for the drug lords, monitoring everyone in and out of the favella.  Taking pictures anywhere in their vacinity is strictly forbidden, although there are areas where pictures are allowed.  However, inspite of the guide being very clear on when and where pictures were allowed, a dutch girl happend to take a picture in the general vacinity of a gang lookout.  They ran after us shouting, machine guns slung over their shoulders and hand guns at thier side.  Everyone in our group looked straight at the ground, unsure of what to do or what was about to take place.  After a heated exchange with our guide, who was a stone cold Brazilian chick, the gang members agreed to take only her memory card.  Phew, close call.  This would not be our only encounter with violence in Rio.  Some pics and video below, make sure you enlarge the screen.


video



The favela is much bigger, this is just what I could fit in the frame.



View from the day care we visited.  Only so many opportunities for pictures in the Favela.
  That same night
On our 2nd night in Rio, we decided to go with a group of our hostel mates to see a futbol game.  We all hopped in a van for what we thought would be a thirty minute drive to the stadium. We grabbed some coxinhas (basically fried chicken balls) and a few beers for the road and drank quickly, as alcohol is not served in the stadiums anymore.  Trust me, the games are rowdy without alcohol, they dont serve it for good reason.  Two hours into our thirty minute ride, I was praying to every god in existence to get to a bathroom, so I would not be forced to pee my pants infront of my new friends.  There are only a few times in my life that I have contemplated what steps I would take if forced to pee my own pants.  This was one of them.  The futbol game was awesome.  People in Brazil take futbol very seriously and because of this, everyone in the stadium is either extremely happy or extremely angry at the same time, and I can tell you that being around either is enough to put you on edge.  Gringo's stand out like a sore thumb at futbol games and because of this, we had a guide with us to keep us safe and ensure that no one would mistake us for fans of the rival team, which would have certainly ended poorly.


Christina and I at the Futbol game after the crowd had left.

Day three
On our third day, we took a trip to Corcovado.  If you've ever seen a picture of Rio, you've likely seen a giant statue of Jesus looking over the city, palms extended.  The views are fantastic, so pics are posted, but nothing blog worthy about the experience, except for the swath of Japanese tourists clicking away with their Nikons.  After getting back, we headed down to the beach to drink some coconut water and take in the sights.  In Rio, the men wear bikini's and the women wear really, really tiny bikinis.  It's people watching at its best; the good, the bad and the ugly.  Half way into my coconut water, a group of twenty Municipal guards marched unto the beach.  These guards are police without guns, but giant wooden batons instead.  Christina and I watched and wondered what was about to conspire.  Apparently, you cannot play futbol on the beach after four o'clock.  As everyone watched, the guards emerged from the crowd with two young guys by the neck, kicking and screaming.  A group of their friends rushed the guards and tried to pull the captives away in a tug-of-war match.  At this moment, the police took out their batons and started cracking skulls, knees and  every bddy part they could connect with.  This was my first time watching someone get hit in the face with a giant stick.  As I mentioned previously, the police are despised in Brazil and as such, the crowd at the beach did not take kindly to this.  Before I knew it, two hundred angry males from the beach (and their man-kinis) rushed the guards, slinging coconuts, chairs and anything they could get thier hands on.  This all happened in a matter of seconds and before I knew it, Christina and I were right in the middle of a small riot.  I grabbed her and we hauled ass down the beach, seconds before the chairs we were sitting on were picked up and used as weapons against the police.  The police eventually retreated and within the hour, the place was swarming with helicoptors and additional police to show their force. Christina and I were a bit shaken, but to be honest, I'm glad we experienced it.  It was pretty awesome.



Christ the Redeemer


View from the top of Corcovado
 Later that night
Friday nights in Rio, people bring the heat.  There is a giant street party every Friday in Lapa, a neighborhood in Rio.  Ten thousand people gather in the streets to drink, fornicate and kill as many brain cells as they possibly can until the sun comes up.  Lapa can be a bit shifty, so we were delighted to have Bernardo, our Brazillian hostel mate, lead our hodge podge group of travelers to the party.  Whithout Bernardo, we likely would've not made it out of Lapa in one piece.  In fact, we likely would've not even had made it there (the metro can be a bit tricky when you dont speak portuguese).  Lapa was amazing, you could not have wiped the smile off my face if you tried.  The party is compeletly lawless and could never take place in the states.  You only bring with you what you are willing to lose, or much more likely, have stolen.  By mistake, one of our travel mates brought her small purse to the street party.  I eventually lost track of how many times people attempted to steal it.  Regardless of the theft, we were not deterred.  The group of us danced wildly to Samba music in the street, dranks way too many Caipirinhas (the signature Brazillian drink), chatted with friendly locals and ate questionable street food before heading home at 5 a.m.

I cannot decide what my favorite experience in Rio was, but the street party will probably take the cake.  People in Rio know how to have fun, at first glance it appears that most of their culture is built around a single purpose: having fun and enjoying life.  They work less, they wear less clothes, they work out and eat more fruit and put pleasure in front of work.  It's everything that America is not and I love it.   Having been traveling a few days now, I'm quickly reminded why we went to such  great lenghts to plan this trip.  You see a single street in a single neighborhood in a single city, and your view of the world in which you live can change instantly.  It's a bit of a drug, but this is one case where addiction may not be so bad.  Many people say that nationalism is a disease and the only cure is travel.  I'm not certain if I agree, but it does seem to make sense. After reading all of this, you may think Rio is violent and dangerous.  It may be a bit differnt than the States, but violent and dangerous it is not,  It's a big city and like all big cities, if you trust your gut and use common sense, you will be fine.  If you do not,  you will suffer the consequence, I promise.  Come here, you won't regret it!

Thanks for following.

Clay
p.s. Have had some problems uploading multiple photos to this blog.  So, will likely provide a picassa link going forward, as soon as I get a stable connection.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

24 hrs. of travel later: Rio!

Greetings from Rio!  Lots to see and do, so this will be short.  We are excited to start the first leg of our trip.  As I sit in a hostel with a french-man (Thomas) and a Chilean ( Enrique) drinking tea, I feel I can exhale for the first time in months.  This has been a long time coming and I can say proudly, that I made it.  Of course, not without the help of my family, friends and Christina.  Some inital pics and video below.

First of many.

video

Sunday, October 24, 2010

So long, Chicago.

Leaving Chicago will certainly be bittersweet.  I knew when I arrived that my time here had an expiration date.  That date is now two days away and although I at times dreamt of the day I could leave in my dust the crime, poverty, trash that so often embody this city, it's hard to say goodbye. Sadly, I will leave Chicago still very much a stranger in my own city.  By nature, I'm inquisitive. If I see a rock, I flip it over to see whats underneath.  I've never enjoyed life from the couch much.  And as such, I've spent most of my time here seeking out unique experiences with friends and there are no lack of them to be had.  Chicago is a maze of neighborhoods and cultures spewing fourth a cornucopia of ethnic eateries, back ally dive bars, bohemian hang outs and eccentric music venues, too many to count.  If you live in Chicago and you are bored, then you are just plain lazy and unimaginative.  Chicago is a bit of an oxymoron: the most convenient, inconvenient place on earth.  Need three dozen tiny, live Korean land crabs and some freshly ripened Daikon kimchi?  Not a problem, take the Kennedy and stop off at Jong Boo market.  Want a day at the beach?  Just head East, it's not far.  A professional sports game?  Please, take your pick.  In the mood for calves brain Marsala at an authentic Pakistani restaurant?  Just head up to Devon Avenue.  Living in Chicago, everything is at your finger tips.  But, throw in a strangers fender bender on the Dan Ryan Expressway, some road construction, or a sporting event and your trip to the store to buy some deodorant can quickly turn into a head spinning three hour debacle where you find yourself chugging mouth wash in the back of a CVS to make your one-mile trip home bearable. 

In the end, Chicago got the best of me.  Too much concrete, to little grass.  Too much traffic, sirens and horns, to little tranquility.  Chicago is a city that changes you.  Once you've lived there long enough, and its gets its paws on you, you will likely never be the same.  It is, to some degree, post-traumatic Chicago stress.  You will never drive the same, you will never let your guard down when walking home at night and you will likely never anticipate the unsolicited kindness and generosity of someone simply doing their job, as they should. There is a buzz that takes hold of you when you live in a big city and once you leave, it's hard to shake.    

Most of my time in Chicago has been spent in the Bucktown neighborhood with the company of a few great friends.  Bucktown is one time Polish hub turned artists' community, turned hipster and trendster hangout.  I don't understand it, but I love it nonetheless.  Like everyone else it seems, I bought a condo in Bucktown during the height of the real estate boom, thinking I could make a quick fortune, invest it in the stock market and spend the rest of my life slinging "Bahama Mamma's" in a beach bar in Mexico.  Little did I know, even Mexico would go to shit.  Soon after I moved in, Bucktown was overrun with hipsters.  It was like Custer's last stand: the hipsters were the Indians and I was with the white man who had invaded their territory. I never quite took to hipsters and I still don't quite like them.  Hipsters are a bit of a paradox: a group of young people trying so hard to be different, that in the end, they all essentially become the same thing. 

In spite of all of the bad experiences I've had in Chicago, the friends I've made and had the pleasure of experiencing this great city with have made it all worth while.  I moved to Chicago knowing no one. I slept on my sisters floor with my dog for six months until I was able to find some roommates through an acquaintance.  I've met many people in Chicago and I am fortunate enough to walk away with a few life long friends. I'll miss you guys and I'll miss Chicago.  Thanks for all the great times.

So long, Chicago.

Clay  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Change isn't easy...

During the process of uprooting my life in Chicago, I've learned some valuable lessons, the most important of which I already somewhat knew: change is one bitch of an adversary and it fights you every step of the way.  Change isn't easy and most people avoid it for that very reason.  Small changes are enough to throw most people off kilter; you change your parking spot, your commute to work, you move apartments, and it takes time to adjust. 

I have spent the last six weeks working feverishly to create my own change, at times even questioning my own rationale.  Every aspect of my life, from top to bottom, is about to change dramatically.  And for some reason, I purposefully signed up for this insanity.  Leaving Chicago after more than five years and resigning from the only company I have worked for post-college has been extremely difficult.  And, planning a two month trip around South America immediately following my departure from Chicago has, at times, been downright stomach churning.  Below you'll find my shotgun guide for what it took and how long:

Shotgun Guide to Change
-Refinance condo (3 months)
-Remove rooftop deck and replace roof on entire condo building (2 months)
-Rent out condo (3 days)
-Move all worldly possessions 350 miles away and place in storage (5 days)
-Move in with sister, girlfriend and pooch in 900 SQ ft. apartment (3 weeks)
-Resign from newly promoted position at Tribune Media Group (15 minutes)
-Create blog to document life from scratch (3.5 weeks)
-Learn how to blog on recently created blog site (ongoing)
-Research and plan two month trip around South America (ongoing)
-Purchase of countless trinkets and gear needed for traveling an entire continent (ongoing)
-Visit travel doctor and get all necessary immunizations/antibiotics/malaria pills (2.5 hours)
-Visa for Brazil and all required documents (2 weeks planning, 1 hour waiting)
-Visit dentist to ensure all teeth are legit before losing dental coverage (3 hours)
-Cancel auto insurance (1 hour)
-Sign up for a new cell phone and new cell phone plan (1 hour)
-Create multiple new banking accounts for travel and rental unit (2 hours)
-Sign up for basic health coverage while traveling and unemployed (1.5 hours)
-Sign up for auto-pay on mortgage, car loan, credit cards and insurance (45 minutes)
-Ensure proper funds to pay all of the above while gone (ongoing)
-Change mailing address and contact information for all financial accounts (1 day)
-Convince parents that all of this is STILL a good idea (ongoing)

Above are the highlights, but the actual list is long enough to make your head spin.  Am I crazy?  Maybe.  Or, just perfectly sane in an insane world.  If you are looking to make your own change and want to avoid an ulcer or complete nervous breakdown, I recommend giving yourself at least a six-month head start.  Eventually, smaller details fall by the wayside and the bigger picture comes into focus.  I have had very little time to plan my future throughout this process. But sometimes, as has proven to be the case with me, escaping your past is one of the only things that will lift the blinds on your future.

Thank you for joining me on this adventure.  The rest of the site should be up and running soon.  Thanks for your patience.

Clay 

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain
      

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And so it begins...

What am I doing?  What. Am. I. Doing.  These four words have ricocheted around in my head for the better part of the last three years.  It’s a great question.  And the answer is an evolving one.  What am I doing now?  The answer to that question at this precise moment is simple: I’m starting over.  The logic, however, has not always been so transparent.  What I am doing is purposefully walking away from the very things most Americans spend their entire lives trying attain: financial stability, job security and a comfortable, predictable future.  Today I resigned from my job as an advertising executive at the largest privately owned media group in the country.  I have moved out of my condo in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood and rented out all three rooms.  I have put nearly all of my possessions in a storage facility 350 miles away.  I have sent my best friend and four-legged partner in crime, Lola, home to live with my parents in Indiana.  And, in one week, I will be out of a job, out of Chicago for good, and hopping on an international flight to South America with my two-legged partner in crime and the woman that I love, Christina.
As a child, I dreamt of becoming many things when I grew up: a karate master, veterinarian, a chef or a filmmaker.  Suffice it to say, while practicing with my homemade make-shift num-chucks in my backyard and cultivating a worm farm in the damp crawl space underneath my childhood home, I could have never predicted my current situation: Five years spent hunched over a computer in a 5’x 6’ synthetic taupe box underneath the drone of florescent lighting.  My ten-year-old self would be ashamed at how easily I let my dreams die.  Knowing the end of my corporate career is near, I have taken inventory of my cube: One black, second-hand stapler.  One telephone that was likely white 30 years ago, but now appears the shade of a bad smoking habit.   Countless binders and trapper-keepers filled with marketing and sales collateral (never opened). One wall-sized calendar with intermittent tally marks noting pay days and today – The Day- in particular.  Three calculators, one briefcase, one picture each of my girlfriend, my dog and my nephews—tacked to the cork board.  One inspiration quote, reminding me that pursing a life that is meaningful to oneself requires courage.  And last but not least, one computer, one grease-stained keyboard and one mouse, in front of which I spend roughly 40 hours a week sitting, doing my job.  As a kid and a dreamer, I foolishly thought that while working, I would be surrounded by things that I loved, things I cared about, things that inspired, things that were connected to me.  Instead, my tools of the trade are meaningless, inanimate objects—their connection to me never extending beyond the computation of my commission from that day’s sale.
Here’s some rough math: Life = 1/3 of time spent sleeping + 2/3 time spent awake.  If you work an average of eight hours a day, you spend nearly half of your fully conscious adult life working.  The past five years, I have lived a life considered by most societal norms to be a privileged one.  And no doubt, it has been.  I have had a well-paying job with an expense account, full benefits and an office on Michigan Avenue.  I have been able to buy a nice condo, a nice car and countless gadgets I never needed.  If there were a barometer to measure success in this country, the metrics would most certainly be linked to the amount of “things” one can acquire and the requisite money.  As a society, we’re obsessed with “things”.  The more of them you have, the more successful you have been.  And, by that measure, I have done pretty well.  Until recently, “What am I doing?” was somewhat a rhetorical question.  I knew exactly what I was doing.  I was doing what most other Americans were doing, what I was supposed to be doing, right? I was working a job that gave me zero fulfillment, making money and acquiring lots of “things” to make that eight-hour void seem worthwhile.  And, I was comfortable, which scared the shit out of me.  And in some part, is responsible for this change, even this very blog.  To some people, such as myself, being comfortable is a bit of a paradox.  People spend their entire lives trying to find a place where they are comfortable.  Then, they ride it out straight to the grave.  This is not a life that I want.  I do not want to look back at my life and regret never having the balls to pursue a career and a life that holds meaning for me, one in which I have fulfillment and a connection to my work, simply because I was too scared to be uncomfortable.
What am I doing?  I am quitting my job.  I am backpacking in South America for two months.  I am finding a new city to call home where I will start a new life and a new career, with new friends and new experiences.  And, I am doing all of this without a plan, but with a simple goal in mind: happiness.  Years from now I will likely look back on this decision as either one of sheer brilliance, or blind ignorance.  But, the journey is certain to be unforgettable.    This is my life from scratch.  Thank you for joining me on my adventure.

Clay

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Photolog

About & Contact

Below you'll find my first post on this site.  This, for the most part, sums up what this whole blog and this journey is about.  I am not trying to find myself, I already know who I am. And the person I've been for the past five years has at times, been a bit of a stranger.  Hope you enjoy following me on what is certain to be a wild ride.

E: clay.markwell@gmail.com

What am I doing?  What. Am. I. Doing.  These four words have ricocheted around in my head for the better part of the last three years.  It’s a great question.  And the answer is an evolving one.  What am I doing now?  The answer to that question at this precise moment is simple: I’m starting over.  The logic, however, has not always been so transparent.  What I am doing is purposefully walking away from the very things most Americans spend their entire lives trying attain: financial stability, job security and a comfortable, predictable future.  Today I resigned from my job as an advertising executive at the largest privately owned media group in the country.  I have moved out of my condo in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood and rented out all three rooms.  I have put nearly all of my possessions in a storage facility 350 miles away.  I have sent my best friend and four-legged partner in crime, Lola, home to live with my parents in Indiana.  And, in one week, I will be out of a job, out of Chicago for good, and hopping on an international flight to South America with my two-legged partner in crime and the woman that I love, Christina.
As a child, I dreamt of becoming many things when I grew up: a karate master, veterinarian, a chef or a filmmaker.  Suffice it to say, while practicing with my homemade make-shift num-chucks in my backyard and cultivating a worm farm in the damp crawl space underneath my childhood home, I could have never predicted my current situation: Five years spent hunched over a computer in a 5’x 6’ synthetic taupe box underneath the drone of florescent lighting.  My ten-year-old self would be ashamed at how easily I let my dreams die.  Knowing the end of my corporate career is near, I have taken inventory of my cube: One black, second-hand stapler.  One telephone that was likely white 30 years ago, but now appears the shade of a bad smoking habit.   Countless binders and trapper-keepers filled with marketing and sales collateral (never opened). One wall-sized calendar with intermittent tally marks noting pay days and today – The Day- in particular.  Three calculators, one briefcase, one picture each of my girlfriend, my dog and my nephews—tacked to the cork board.  One inspirational quote, reminding me that pursing a life that is meaningful to oneself requires courage.  And last but not least, one computer, one grease-stained keyboard and one mouse, in front of which I spend roughly 40 hours a week sitting, doing my job.  As a kid and a dreamer, I foolishly thought that while working, I would be surrounded by things that I loved, things I cared about, things that inspired, things that were connected to me.  Instead, my tools of the trade are meaningless, inanimate objects—their connection to me never extending beyond the computation of my commission from that day’s sale.
Here’s some rough math: Life = 1/3 of time spent sleeping + 2/3 time spent awake.  If you work an average of eight hours a day, you spend nearly half of your fully conscious adult life working.  The past five years, I have lived a life considered by most societal norms to be a privileged one.  And no doubt, it has been.  I have had a well-paying job with an expense account, full benefits and an office on Michigan Avenue.  I have been able to buy a nice condo, a nice car and countless gadgets I never needed.  If there were a barometer to measure success in this country, the metrics would most certainly be linked to the amount of “things” one can acquire and the requisite money.  As a society, we’re obsessed with “things”.  The more of them you have, the more successful you have been.  And, by that measure, I have done pretty well.  Until recently, “What am I doing?” was somewhat a rhetorical question.  I knew exactly what I was doing.  I was doing what most other Americans were doing, what I was supposed to be doing, right? I was working a job that gave me zero fulfillment, making money and acquiring lots of “things” to make that eight-hour void seem worthwhile.  And, I was comfortable, which scared the shit out of me.  And in some part, is responsible for this change, even this very blog.  To some people, such as myself, being comfortable is a bit of a paradox.  People spend their entire lives trying to find a place where they are comfortable.  Then, they ride it out straight to the grave.  This is not a life that I want.  I do not want to look back at my life and regret never having the balls to pursue a career and a life that holds meaning for me, one in which I have fulfillment and a connection to my work, simply because I was too scared to be uncomfortable.
What am I doing?  I am quitting my job.  I am backpacking in South America for two months.  I am finding a new city to call home where I will start a new life and a new career, with new friends and new experiences.  And, I am doing all of this without a plan, but with a simple goal in mind: happiness.  Years from now I will likely look back on this decision as either one of sheer brilliance, or blind ignorance.  But, the journey is certain to be unforgettable.    This is my life from scratch.  Thank you for joining me on my adventure.
Clay